Oak Street runs for 16 blocks, starting at Agassiz Park on Red Jacket’s east side and ending atop Tamarack Hill a mile to the west. At over a mile long the road is one of Red Jacket’s longest streets. But as originally platted Oak was only three blocks long, running only between 5th and 7th streets (as seen above). As Red Jacket grew and prospered Oak would continue westward for another two blocks, finally stopping just past 9th as it butted up against the Mineral Range rail corridor. From that point on Oak’s westward expansion would be across C&H lands and outside village limits – as well as outside the scope of this series.
Today we start at the beginning, the 400 block of Oak Street. This block sits at the road’s east end, and is dominated by the mid sized business blocks that sit at the corner of 5th street. The block is only half sized, as the old alleyway that once crossed through its center has since even converted into 4th street.
Today the 400 block is anchored by Agassiz Park, but originally it was nothing but an open field. Later the field would become home to a rather impressive ball field, and would be used for traveling carnivals and other large gatherings. In 1885 the Mineral Range would use the fields extreme western end to build it’s Red Jacket depot and rail yard – along what is today known as 4th street.
Today echoes of that old depot can still be seen very near where it once stood at the head of Oak Street – in the guise of a newly added warming shack. When the warming shack was constructed during a recent park improvement project, it was decided to model it after an old train station as homage to the old Mineral Range depot that once stood here more then a century ago.
The arrival of that depot quickly changed Red Jacket’s established hierarchy, diminishing 5th street’s importance and catapulting Oak Street into the village’s new main street. Soon a road that previously only catered to residential construction found itself home to several boarding houses, hotels, and accompanying business blocks – setting the stage for the impressive street scape that can be viewed along Oak still today.
While much changed along Oak Street with the railroad’s arrival, one thing managed to stay the same: Shea’s Livery and Stable. The stable harkens back to Oak Street’s humble beginnings, when the cross street literally ended at the livery’s door. With the arrival of the depot, Oak was extended eastward past Shia’s to meet up with the newly constructed station, making its way around the old stable in the process. Because of this, the stable sat several dozen feet out into the roadway, partially blocking it.
Though the old stable no longer stands, its outline can still be seen etched onto Oak Street’s surface. Apparently when Oak was given the brick paver treatment, the workers simply laid the street around the stable’s encroaching footprint. After the stable was torn down, its footprint left a gaping hole in the street’s surface. The hole was then simply filled with concrete, leaving the scar we see still today. Behind the old livery’s outline can be seen its modern equivalent – a multiple bay automobile garage.
That garage is attached to this building: a brick business block sitting on the north east corner of 5th Street. I don’t know the building’s original name, but today it’s commonly referred to as the Bedazed building – named after the last business that occupied it. I’ve featured this building once before on CCE (you can see it HERE), highlighting several of its unique features such as the line of arched window openings on it’s southern face and incredibly detailed brick cornice. The business block was built sometime around 1890, originally topped by a short spire on its corner that has since been removed.
As originally built the building housed three storefronts. The largest of these faced 5th and was home first to a general store and later to a high-end women’s clothing store known as “The Fashion”. A much smaller retail space was squeezed into the buildings angled corner and was home to a barber for many years. A third space fronted Oak – located behind that row of bricked-in arched windows – but was later combined with the 5th street space. The second floor was home to a photographer.
Across the street sits another old business block that continues to stand today, now home to Herman Jewelers. Herman’s is one of Calumet’s oldest businesses, having been in business since 1868, but has only recently called this building home. For most of the jewelry store’s life it was located down the street within its very own three story business block known as the Hermann block. The building here on the corner of Oak – built around 1884 – was more commonly know as the home to the Vastbinder & Read drug store.
Right behind the Herman building we find our last stop on our 400 block tour. This one-story structure that looks to have once been home to auto mechanic sits on the site of a much larger wood framed building that on called Oak Street home. That building is the Hall block, a rather short lived structure that was erected on this corner in 1895.
Here’s the Hall building in its hay day, at about the turn of the century. The structure was extremely short lived, disappearing from city maps by 1908. During its short life the building was home to several businesses, including a cigar shop, bicycle repair shop, piano shop, and tailor. The building had three store fronts, two left of the central stairway and one to the right. The second floor was apartments.
With the first block now behind us, we cross 5th and move on to the road’s most impressive block – home to the massive Vertin Brother’s department store and historic Michigan House.
To be continued…